Last week, I offered a spirited defence of the Shergar Cup at Ascot. Any of the more than 30,000 racegoers who packed the Ascot stands at the weekend cannot fail to have been transfixed by young Sammy Jo Bell, whose expertise in the saddle helped The Girls team to their first win in the history of the 15-year old team racing event.
Bell was on the front page of the industry paper, the Racing Post, on Saturday and again on Sunday. I’ve long argued that racing needs its stars and when someone of Bell’s talent turns up for a big Summer Saturday of racing on terrestrial TV and the stands are packed to the rafters, you might rightly think that we are blessed from on high.
She was absolutely brilliant: strong, determined, stylish and gracious in victory. Is she the finished article? By her own admission, probably not, but my goodness she was good and she’s young and she’s only going to get better.
Racing people sometimes whinge that these great feats are happening day in, day out without the wider public being aware. It strikes me as a flawed argument: we need the big stages, the terrestrial TV and the national press to alert us — and those who might not follow the sport as closely as we do — to these stars.
Bell will hopefully be around for many more big Saturdays and command many more column inches. Three cheers for that.
You might not believe it but I spend a fair bit of time toying themes around before committing pen to paper for this blog. And I hope I’m honest enough. So when I tell you that I’m drafting this at gone 8pm in the office and the juices aren’t flowing, you’ll want to know why. And the truth is — really — because the racing is pretty rubbish at the moment. I’ve written before on the theme of feast and famine in racing, and Flat racing in particular, but the lull of this part of the year is a little more complex.
Perhaps we are simply greedy? Once Glorious Goodwood winds down, we are chomping at the bit to get up to the Knavesmire for the Ebor meeting. Yes, we have last weekend’s Shergar Cup, which ticks a lot of boxes for a great day out but less so for high end racing, and we have this coming weekend’s half decent card at Newbury, but in the greater scheme of wines and spirits, they’re a little bit vin ordinaire.
There’s little in the mid-week of this fortnight or so set the pulse racing, so we sit tight and pray that Summer isn’t over before arriving in York next week full of beans and hope, and maybe a bit of champagne. It can’t come soon enough for me.
Aside from Bell’s brilliance at Ascot, the news which thrilled me most in the past week was the revelation in the Racing Post that Michael Dickinson was to start training horses from his base in Maryland, USA, once again.
In all truth, I had a bit of a sneak preview having received a call from the great man a week earlier — much to my surprise. I’ve only met Dickinson a dozen or so times and my interest in horse racing post-dates his halcyon years as an all-conquering National Hunt trainer.
He phoned me out of the blue, having been given my number by my boss, and I was asked for some feedback on an idea he was working on. I was delighted to help out, and having sent my thoughts, he phoned back to say thanks. Both calls will be treasured in the memory bank.
Why? Well purely for the simple reason that I think Dickinson is bonkers — in the nicest possible way. I can’t keep pace with his conversation and his diversions and quirks. I laughed with him and he roared even louder, before returning to his theme and barking away.
We have a lot of plain vanilla guys in racing and there’s no harm in keeping it simple. But Dickinson is a maverick, a loose cannon and an astoundingly funny bloke. Let’s hope he brings a few laughs back to these shores in the coming years while reminding us just how brilliant he is at training horses, too.
Images of the Shergar Cup and of Sammy Jo Bell by Christopher Lee / Getty Images, courtesy of Ascot Racecourse.